In his comment, Jamie Notter points us to his blog post which shares an excellent definition of consensus. It describes two critical components of consensus: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision. Take a look at the post, it makes some important points.
Kevin Holland also points out that associations should not utilize a formal consensus process on every decision they make. AGREED!!! Talk about anti-nimble, and that's certainly not where associations need to be. Some decisions just need to be made, and quickly, period.
In the post, I am specifically talking about developing industry standards, and there I do believe consensus is critical. But, I also wanted to clarify that I am not advocating that all associations should become ANSI-accredited as developers of American National Standards. That path is right for some, not for others. My point is that the option is something all standard-setters should be aware of and give serious consideration as to whether or not it has value for them. Of course any organization can develop processes consistent with the principles put forth by ANSI (and ISO, the International Organization for Standardization) without being formally acknowledged. However, for some, the benefit of third-party verification of quality is significant - and that's what accreditation can give you.
Take the certification industry standards, for example. There are many, including:
ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024: General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons (2003) American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Washington, DC.
Development, Administration, Scoring and Reporting of Credentialing Examinations (2004), Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR), Lexington, KY.
Principles of Fairness: An Examining Guide for Credentialing Bodies (2002), National Organization for Competency Assurance and Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation, Lexington KY.
Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs (2002) National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) of the National Organization for Competency Assurance, Washington, DC.
Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1999) of the American Educational Research Organization, American Psychological Organization and the National Council on Measurement in Education).
There is only one standard on this list (ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024) that I can be ASSURED was developed following the quality principles of consensus, balance, transparency, due process and others. Does that mean the others aren't good standards? No. Does it mean the processes they followed were bad? Of course not. But, absent conformance to any formally documented standards development process, all we have to go on is our trust in the standards developer. My question: in this era of consumer distrust, is that enough? If you're a standards developer, that's a question to take to heart.